Tag Archive: Maasai Mara



It’s a wrap! Done with my blogs on my recent trip to Kenya and Tanzania. And here’s the blog summary. Just click away.

 

Nairobi

Treetops Lodge in Aberdares

Lakes Nakuru and Bogoria

Hippos of Lake Naivasha

Balloon Ride Over the Maasai Mara

The Day My Camera Jammed

Not Exactly Roughing It

A Visit To A Maasai Village

The Great Migration

Safari Woes

Ngorongoro

Lake Manyara

 

Twelve blogs? I was on a roll πŸ˜‰

Here’s more. Mi apologia, but can’t resist waxing poetic πŸ™„

 

I drifted through my Safari dreams

Long-kept, nurtured and cherished

Stayed awake through the long flight

Landing like a Zombie in Nairobi.

 

From Treetops Lodge to the famous lakes

Nakuru, Bogoria and Naivasha

We finally reached the savanna

Stretching from Maasai Mara to Tanzania.

 

Stopped by to huddle with Maasai Villagers

Just as well to jump with the lion slayers

Then off the next morn for a balloon ride

Over the plains, before another safari drive.

 

Lions feasting on a wildebeest

And another with a zebra foot

Circle of Life may seem harsh

But such is the nature of life.

 

Ngorongoro is so refreshing

Animals too happy to be migrating

Exactly how I felt in our luxury camp

It’s just too good, I wish not to move.

 

But alas, there is one last game drive

Not just off to the plains nor the lakes

Manyara has a little bit of all, around

Plus a swamp where hippos abound.

 

Maasai Mara and Serengeti

Jambo, Jambo can’t forget thee

Dusted and wasted we felt

Asan Masante, these memories won’t melt.

 

 

Kwaheri, Africa! πŸ’•

The Great Migration


Just. Keep. Moving.

This annual spectacle involves up to 2 million wildebeests moving between the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. You may call it a “food trip”. After all, them wildebeests and zebras traveling, migrating together are seriously in need of greener grass such that they move from one side to the other, and then back. The herd crosses the Mara River where predator beasts lurk, searching for the weakest amongst the migrants, ready to pounce on its prey. We didn’t see any of such NatGeo drama where a lion 🦁 actually chases and kills and feasts on one poor wildebeest or zebra, but we had close encounters with some lions guarding its prized kill, calling on the rest of its pride to join the feast, and a junior simba dragging a zebra foot.

Animal tracks visible from a hot air balloon.

The Grand Migration follows a cycle. And those who wish to view this magical wildlife in its annual journey must heed certain rituals. Like waking up early. At sunrise, you stand a good chance of seeing a “kill” involving these nocturnal hunters. At the very least, you can catch them eating their prey with a vulture or two waiting for the leftover carcass. It’s not easy especially for the late risers, but the sacrifice adequately rewards. We spotted quite an assortment of these lionesses with her cubs but only a few of the alpha males with their glorious mane.

πŸ“Έ by Ernie Albano
πŸ“Έ by Ernie Albano

From the hot air balloon, we shrieked in delight watching the wildebeests and zebras running or just hanging around. So many of them, that it looked like colonies of ants from a distance. The animal tracks were so visible too from the air. The Maasai Mara has acacia trees looking like giant bonsai plants where we spotted elephants, lions, cheetahs and even a lone sleeping leopard hidden up on its branches. I’m sure you’ve seen many photos of these Safari animals. My iPhone cam shots are not bad but I didn’t pass up the chance to borrow some photos taken by a friend who is a hobby photographer. But what I want to share here are photos of how we went about these game drives. Like how about waking up at 3 am, leaving your hotel at 4am to arrive before 5am where your hot air balloon is being prepped for flight? Or eating tons of dust following land cruiser safari vehicles who responded maybe just a few minutes earlier to radioed alerts on animal sightings in the vast expanse of the savannah. And mind you, radioed animal sightings don’t mean you can get there in a jiffy. Some drives can be a half hour to an hour of bumpy rides along dusty paths.

The land cruisers have no air conditioning. With an open sun roof, this is understandable. The early mornings are fine but it gets warmer towards noon. And so you’ve got dusty, bumpy and hot by midday and it’s not a good combination especially if there are no animal sightings. At one point, someone in our group told the guides we’ve seen enough antelopes, wildebeests, zebras and birds. This is so so our guides can skip these searches and instead focus on more lions, cheetahs, elephants, leopards, rhinos, hippos and even hyenas. It was our 3rd day of game drives, and we were tired despite all the excitement. Besides, it made lotsa sense to restrict the game drives to the Big 5. If at all, we’d change the rules only if there’s a kill, a mating or some animal in labor to give birth. Fancy that?

Here’s more. I’m a coffee lover and days don’t start with me without a good cup of coffee. But you need to watch your take of this fine liquid brew if you care not to do your business in the bush. In fact, you can’t actually pee in the bush! There are spots where there are toilets but while on a game drive, you just can’t tell your driver guide to stop so you can pee. No way, JosΓ©. If you think your bladder is not in good condition, skip the morning coffee. 😭 Then of course, there’s the packed lunch. Unless you start very early and wish to get back to your hotel for a decent lunch, you need to make do with a packed lunch. There are designated picnic grounds (with toilets) where you can eat — sometimes with the dust πŸ˜”. Whether you’re in Maasai Mara or Serengeti Plains, enjoy the dust. It’s on your jacket, your shirt, your pants, your HAIR! I hardly touched nor ran my fingers through my hair after that first time that it felt hard and thick with dust. Yay! Finally, do remember that the hotels and lodges know exactly what should go into that lunch box that won’t spoil till noontime. I’m talking boiled egg, a piece of fried chicken, a simple sandwich, a banana, an apple, juice and water. If you’re in luck, there may be a small bag of potato chips in your box. One hotel packed us a really good lunch — a choice of a veggie burger, or noodles with stir-fried veggies or something I had for 2 straight days: mixed rice and stir-fried chicken with veggies. It may be a cold lunch but certainly better than a boiled egg and fried chicken. Only issue is you’d eat it in a picnic area infested with “pets” looking like giant rodents. I don’t know what they are, but here, have a look. I found a couple cavorting right under the table beside my foot.

Soooo, have I managed your expectations well enough? 😊

Going on a safari requires that one keeps an open mind. There are a lot of surprises, hopefully pleasant surprises more than disappointments. The animal sightings are not guaranteed. You may not see what you like to see, and then see what you’re not interested in. Everything is sooo natural, unscripted, spontaneous and even unexpected. There are rules to follow, safety procedures to observe. You may cut short your game drives but such are decided “in the field”. If you’re the type who easily get bored, I suggest you don’t go. Those NatGeo documentaries watched from your Lazy Boy may be good enough for you. Plus you can have your hot meal while watching. As our Safari guide Joshua would say, you need patience to truly enjoy this. Hakuna Matata!


On clear days, the soft, pillowy clouds dot the blue horizon. Grass turn golden on certain hours of the day while the few trees left standing (and uneaten by ellies) in the savannah provide shade to some of the most beautiful animals. Safari drives early morn, packed lunch boxes midday, more game drives, before calling it a day. All these can drain you of whatever energy is left. The thrill of animal sightings in their own habitat pumps your adrenaline, leaving you wasted by day’s end. Mercifully, our accommodations in the Ole Serai Luxury Camp make for glorious evenings. The camp’s only 7 months old but it’s so well-run (thanks, Rashid!) and well-appointed. The tents are more permanent structures, roped down tight and “zipped up” every night by able staff. Nighttime melodies include “scratchings” of cape buffaloes’ backs on the ropes supporting the tents, followed by squeals of delight after a good scratch, the occasional rawrrrrr of a lion, leaves crunching while an unknown beast passes and birds chirping early morns. If you’re lucky, a giraffe may walk by oh so elegantly while you’re seated on the porch.

I’ve heard of and read about luxury camps, yet I was still floored by how luxurious this camp is. The soft pillows, the dresser, the escritoire, the sturdy but comfy granny armchairs, the lookout porch, the modern sinks and bath appointments. It broke my heart to leave this camp after 2 nights! Internet may be weak in the rooms but that’s a good reason to head for the Reception Lounge or the Serengeti Cocktail Lounge. My only complaint is how they price their wine. A bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon costs US$40, but a glass of the same wine costs US$15. If there’s 2 of you, you’re better off getting a bottle and bringing what’s left over (if any!) to your tent. Well, it’s a “young” camp and they can always review their price listings for cocktails. But they sure have a good crew — in the dining lounge, I remember the very efficient Ezekiel who’d happily take our breakfast and dinner orders. There are always choices, and it’s a chore to decide which from among the good stuff.

If there’s a word I’d use to describe the lounges and our rooms, I need to choose between luxurious and opulent. I mean, even many 5 star hotels don’t have escritoire as good looking as what we had in our room. I felt a longing to write down a thank you letter on some fancy stationery and feel those Karen Blixen vibes πŸ˜‚ The bathroom and toilet may not be as luxurious as those found in regular hotels but hey, we’re in the middle of a savannah! No tubs too but I’m impressed with the attention to details — the coffee and tea set in the room, the soft towels and robes, the dresser, chandeliers and night lamps.

I just love how the camp looks at night. From our tent, the pathway leads up to the Serengeti Lounge (for cocktails) and right beside it, the Acacia Lounge where breakfasts and dinners are served. I noticed there’s an area for Boma dinners too but I guess one needs to make prior arrangements to set it up πŸ˜‰ We enjoyed our meals here, and found the selections adequate. It’s just too bad we can’t linger in the porch with our feet up, nursing a drink, enjoying African starry nights. The camp staff will gently nudge you in and remind you to use the radio for help, if need be, before they leave you all “zipped in” inside. Mornings are ok since the roving guards and crew are up and around. But there was one morning they found a loitering lion at the camp’s periphery. Soooo….. early morning jogs may not really be a good idea.

(This is NOT a paid review. Just ramblings from a happy, satisfied guest )


Here you are, way too giddy with excitement in the vastness of the Savannah plains. Then your camera jammed, wasted after all that zooming in for close up shots. Must be dust in the lens. What do you do? You fish out your iPhone and try your best not to lose your calm. These animal sightings have been your Safari dreams and NO ONE, and NOTHING can ruin this holiday for moΓ­. Seriously. Then, I found a solution. It was my good fortune to be traveling with a hobby photographer. And I did push my luck by unashamedly asking if I could grab some of his photos. Master Photographer Ernie Albano, you saved the day for me! Even if my camera didn’t conk out on me, I couldn’t have taken these lovely, stunning closeups of the safari animals we met and experienced. And just so you know, your dear wife takes pretty neat photos too with her tablet! 😊

Simba and his Queen both make good profiles but admittedly, the Lion King looks more impressive with his royal mane. Ernie caught him with his mane blown by the wind in the vastness of the golden savannah. And don’t you agree he snapped a good impression of the lioness with keen hunter’s eyes? Or have a look at the Mommy and Baby Ellie out on a stroll, or this cheetah with spots so clear you’d want to run your fingers on its fur…..until it sticks out its tongue! Those zoom lens are good but obviously, Ernie has mastered these shots. I’d be afraid to have him take my closeup — warts, wrinkles and all. 😱

Some animals really look lovely. Like the swans of the Savannah — the giraffes, looking so demure with soulful eyes generously endowed with thick, long lashes. So with the regal lions, exotic cheetahs, graceful gazelles and impalas, majestic elephants, tough looking rhinos, smart baboons, sexy zebras, serious-looking wildebeests. But I couldn’t find an adjective to describe the hippos. We found more of them in Lake Naivasha and in Ngorongoro, but the stinky ones we encountered in Maasai Mara look just the same. Non-descript smelly mammals who look fearsome and aggressive? I’m trying here. Or maybe I’m just biased against them after the mauling incidents and attacks in Lake Naivasha.

Ernie took very good photos of the birds too. The yellow weavers responsible for those nests we found in many trees grace many of Ernie’s frames. My favourite. And there were others — kingfishers, herons, egrets, vultures, cranes and many more species we couldn’t name. We stopped to let him take these impressive shots every so often until we grew tired and connived to refrain from alerting him of our spottings. My bad! 🀐

Thank you, Manong Ernie, for sharing all these Safari photos with me. So crisp and clear, and such depth. Very generous of you. And ohhhh, the last 2 photos I took. Not as crisp nor clear, but just so the readers see you “in action”. Hakuna Matata!😊

And here’s one for the birders. Photo Credits to Ernie Albano, of course.

https://youtu.be/0hHx6IOJscU


I’ve had Safari dreams. The Big 5, witnessing a “kill”, perhaps a mating, or even just watching the Great Migration. Every year, some 2 million wildebeests travel from the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. This annual spectacle in these animals’ search for grass , lasts from July through October covering nearly 3,000 kilometers. To see all these wildebeests with zebras as their likely travel companions from a hot air balloon sounds mind blowing. And for good measure, a champagne breakfast in the bush after that awesome ride won’t hurt. 😊

https://youtu.be/Pc07D7si6ts

πŸ“Έ by Ernie Albano

We were a party of 12 pax. The 12-seater basket held all of us comfortably, 6 to each side, with Captain Peter right in the middle. Peter is a most amiable man who just happened to love his job taking tourists up in the air over the Maasai Mara National Park. He gently reminds us about the rules while acting as captain, spotter, narrator and even photographer. Every now and then, he’d point to the balloon shadow on the vast Savannah and the Safari cruisers following our flight on the ground as we drifted quietly over the plains. He navigated the balloon right up to the Tanzanian border and pointed out the animal tracks for the migrating animals, the rivers and even joined us briefly for the post-ride breakfast in the bush. He was gone before 9 am. He did warn us while up in the air that he’d make a quick, quiet leave in keeping with his “5 to 9 job” πŸ‘Œ

Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley is contiguous with the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Wildlife viewing during the dry months when the wildebeests and zebras migrate from Serengeti to Maasai Mara starting in July is simply magical. Named after the Maasai tribe who lived in the region and using the Maasai word “Mara” which means “spotted”, this reserve is home to the Safari Big 5 as well as to many other wildlife animals. Up in the balloon, Capt. Peter spotted some zebras and wildebeests seemingly playing “follow the leader” as they either moved in a line or as a pack or herd. He likewise spotted a lion but only one of us saw it. I wasn’t quick enough. He lent us his binoculars but I just knew I couldn’t build a career as a spotter. Amazing how these animals expertly camouflage themselves on trees or in the vast wilderness of the Savannah fields. Zebras make a breathtaking sight too when spotted from the air — white animals with brown or black stripes. Yes Virginia, brown. We’re told young zebras have brown stripes which turn black as they mature. I know. I didn’t know that too before coming here. What a spectacle seeing these striped animals run along with their wildebeest buddies!

This experience is absolutely worth waking up to at 3 am. Cold and sleepless, we left our hotel like zombies by 4am for a bumpy one-hour ride towards the “take off” spot where several other balloons lay on their sides before being inflated. It was very cold. And very dark. I went back to the Safari van to keep myself warm while the sun began to peek out before rising. Then the hot air balloon was readied for flight. Take off and landing were smooth. And I do like the pilot’s calm demeanour and modulated voice as he gently prepped us for minor bumps upon landing. The excitement made us forget we’ve been without nourishment since we woke up at 3am. Bush breakfast came with flutes of champagne. We can’t complain. Even the loo with a view was literally “with a view” because there is a huge gap between the flaps so that one sees the vast fields while doing his/her business.

Hot air balloon rides don’t come cheap. But I’m glad I did this. Would have wished to see zebras or wildebeests running and crossing the Mara river while predator lions and crocs lurk, eyeing the weakest among them. But the Great Migration is all there, running or not. Truly G.R.E.A.T. This natural phenomenon is just magical. Fantastic memories stored forever in my heart and mind ❀️